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Inauguration of President Dr. David L. Coppola 2014

Keystone College officially inaugurated David L. Coppola, Ph.D., as its 10th president and 19th leader on Thursday, August 28, 2014, in a stirring ceremony marked by academic pageantry and a promising outlook of innovation and advancement for the College. Dr. Coppola invited Keystone students to ponder great questions of history and of modern times, which he contended a Keystone College education fosters and can help individuals to answer by living virtuous lives. Dr. Coppola’s text follows.

Thank you for your presence and heartfelt greetings of support as Keystone College welcomes a new class of students who have accepted our invitation to carry our legacy of excellence forward. Those of you in the incoming class of 2014 would rightly ask, “What do you mean by excellence, carried how, what legacy, and forward to where?” Perhaps some of you simply came for the free lunch after the ceremony?

Keystone is part of a community with a rich history and an increasingly vibrant present, and I have felt welcomed here from the moment the moving trucks pulled up at 29 College Avenue in Factoryville last summer. Of course, the logical question when it comes to the timing of this inauguration nearly a year later might be, “What were they waiting for?” Perhaps the Search Committee spoke to some of my family, friends, and colleagues who warned them not to rush into things? Whatever the reasons, I am grateful for their show of love and support today, especially those of you from Sacred Heart University and Fordham University.

In particular, I would like to thank my wife, Delia, and our two sons, Aidan and Thomas, for the perspective, joy, and relentless hope they bring to my life. I would also ask our extended family to please stand as they represent the connections, the ties that give us strength, and the profound affections for life that we share with each other.

I am also honored to be joined today by my predecessor, Dr. Edward Boehm, the 9th president of Keystone College and its leader for 18 years. Ned, your presence marks the fact that this ceremony is not solely about any particular individual, or group, but rather about the entire Keystone College community—its history, values, dreams, and the mission that we carry into the future. Anything we are able to accomplish in the coming years will build on the dedicated contributions you and your wife, Regina, have made to this fine college. Thank you for your service and thank you for being here today and for being a true gentleman and model of how to gracefully pass on the torch.

Welcome also to the many delegates from colleges and universities across Pennsylvania, New England, and the nation. I would like to especially thank the presidents from the area, and Dr. Don Francis, president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Pennsylvania. Your presence honors Keystone and me, and we appreciate your solidarity and support at this moment of meaning for this college that attests to our shared mission.

Thank you, as well, trustees, former trustees, and alumni — those of you present here today and those of you participating at a distance. You serve and support the College in so many ways, and I am deeply grateful. I pledge to you my best work, best ideas, and diligence in my role.

And finally, thank you students, faculty, and staff, who are the heart and soul of this campus community. Here, I give special thanks to the many individuals who have worked for months planning these events, wrestling with every detail so that we would all feel welcomed and important. Keystone has not hosted an inauguration in 27 years, so it took two pages of extraordinary people to make this a stunning success. Please thank the Inauguration Planning Committee, whose names are listed in the program for their selfless and excellent work.

As small children, we simply trusted and accepted the other or those others who provided for us. But in time, we began to guess who they were, what the names of the people and things around us were called. Perhaps as you grew in age, you heard some of the same questions that I did: “Did you wash your hands?” “Did you brush your teeth?” “Did you do your homework?” Or later as a teenager, “What were you thinking!?” “Where is your head!?” “What are you waiting for!?”

This process of questioning is told well in the classic story in the scroll of Genesis where two of the characters in the Garden of Eden disobey God’s instructions not to eat the fruit from the tree in the middle of the Garden. And as most children will do, to test their limits, they ate it anyway, and their eyes were opened. Thus began their adolescent-to-adult journey of maturity, consciousness, choices, and responsibility. But the story continues with God walking in the Garden later in the day, and God asks one of the most unlikely questions, “Where are you?”

One would think that God would know such things. And when children hear this story, they believe they can hide, as if the game of Hide and Seek is one God enjoys. But the deepest questions have a way of coming around in life, and adults probably hear the question this way: “Where are you now that you have made all of your decisions and choices that have brought you to this place? And where are you going—Quo vadis?”

Questions often point to a culture’s values and meanings. Here are a few questions asked in popular culture in some of the songs of the past 50 years. I half-heartedly apologize if one of these melodies stays with you the rest of the day.

Simple questions such as:

  • What would you do if I sang out of tune, would you stand up and walk out on me?
  • Does anybody really know what time it is?
  • Where have all the flowers gone?
  • Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?
  • Do you know the way to San Jose?
  • What’s going on?
  • Should I stay or should I go?
  • Why can’t we be friends?
  • Do you want to know a secret?
  • Who are you?
  • What you gon’ do with all that junk?/All that junk inside your trunk?
  • Or simply, Annie Lennox’s, “Why?”

There are some probing questions such as:

  • What’s it all about, Alfie?
  • One, two, three, what are we fighting for?
  • Is there anybody out there?
  • What are we waiting for?
  • How will I know?
  • What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding?
  • What’s a matter you? [Hey–Shuddap yo face]

And dogs occasionally seem to influence our cultural discourse:

  • How much is that doggie in the window?
  • Oh where, oh where has my little dog gone?
  • Who let the dogs out?

Many questions deal with love and relationships:

  • Tell me, who. . . wrote the Book of Love?
  • Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near?
  • Have I told you lately, that I love you?
  • Is this love?
  • How can you mend a broken heart?
  • How long has this been goin’ on?
  • How am I supposed to live without you?
  • Will you still love me tomorrow?
  • Who’s your daddy?
  • What’s love got to do with it?

Finally, there are perplexing questions, such as: “Hello, I love you, won’t you tell me your name?” Or maybe some of you remember, “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” (If we didn’t know then, we certainly know now.) Or, perhaps some of you remember the Beatles’ White Album: “Why don’t we do it in the road?” Students, one does not need a college degree to answer this last question in three words: Tractor trailer trucks.

It is an overwhelming privilege and humbling trust for me to walk into the leadership and history of an academic institution, such as Keystone College. And it is a formidable task to ask the right questions that help to guide the way into the predictably unpredictable future. I believe that a probing question is always more valuable than dozens of easy, shallow answers, and the best way to carry our legacy of excellence forward is to engage the present questions confidently [con fide—with faith), and make progress through persistent effort (Keystone’s motto: via fit-vi) towards the cultivation of life-giving habits of the mind and heart. From the iconic film, The Wizard of Oz, there are many questions about the mind and heart and the courage to use them both in action. My favorite is when Dorothy asks, “How do you know if you don’t have a brain?” The Scarecrow responds, “I don’t know, but some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don’t they?” Both the mind and heart comprise our consciences and the heart is like a compass, an inner pointer to love and truth.

Keystone’s legacy of excellence is one of students and teachers asking and acting on important questions. And the questions cannot be rushed. The late Michael Crichton (October 23, 1942 – November 4, 2008) was a Harvard Medical School graduate who became an American best-selling author, producer, director, and screenwriter, best known for his work in the science fiction, and medical fiction/thriller genres, such as, The Andromeda Strain, Congo, Sphere, Westworld, and Jurassic Park. He reportedly said, “I am certain there is too much certainty in the world.”

Good teachers know how to employ the Socratic Method, to question, to bring out the best in their students and also know that understanding takes time and too much certainty can bear destructive consequences in fundamentalism, fanaticism, and imperialism. Good teachers do not denigrate reflection as uncertainty; nor is discernment misunderstood as indecision, and civility is not misconstrued as weakness. In fact, one of the greatest gifts we can teach, in a world that is fascinated with fast talk, simplistic slogans, and false dualisms, is bold, thoughtful, and proportionate restraint. In classical language, this was known as the virtue of temperance borne of prudence for the sake of justice and love. In other words, just because we can do something does not mean that we should immediately do so. This thoughtful restraint and discernment is at the center of the pursuit of a meaningful and ethical life, the heart of a liberal arts and sciences education. The seven sources of ethical decision-making—who, what, why, when, where, by what means, and how—are necessary questions when discerning the greatest good, the summum bonum.

One hundred and forty-six years ago, Charles Reynolds, Stephen Capwell, and James Frear met in Mr. Frear’s general merchandise store down the street in Factoryville, Pennsylvania, and lamented the lack of a proper preparatory school for young people seeking a college education. The secondary school system had not yet been established on a statewide basis. Several meetings ensued in the Factoryville Baptist Church, and later, in 1868, a charter was submitted to the Luzerne County Court. Harvey Bailey joined the group of these visionary founders who dared to ask, “Now that the Civil War is over, what does our community need?” “What are we waiting for; why not start a school?” And they did.

And for those of you interested, the cost, including term bills, books, room, board, fuel and light was between $138-175 per academic year, depending on the cost of coal. The first class was seven students and swelled to nearly ninety in thirty years.  General rules included that term bills be paid in advance. And any room damage was the responsibility of the students. Students would rise to a 6 am bell and retire with the sounding of a 10 pm bell. Students were forbidden to “engage in any amusement or diversion during school or study hours and loud talking [had to] be controlled.” Lady students were forbidden to accept the company of any young gentleman as an escort to or from any place in the evening. And gentlemen students were forbidden to carry concealed weapons, to use or have in their possession any pistol or other firearm within the limits of the Academy grounds.

Those were rugged times indeed, but the faculty and administration served here with distinction throughout the past three centuries, and I wonder how they formulated their questions and solutions with each new challenge to the political and moral life we experienced as individuals and as a nation? Who could have guessed the long-term effects of industrialization, World War I (1914-1918), the Great Depression in 1930s, and World War II?

Or more recently in the 1960s, as the civil rights movement seemed to test our nation’s foundations, cities burned, and campuses were divided over the Vietnam War, our College faculty and leaders answered the questions of their day by expanding, inviting more students, doubling the size of Capwell Science Hall, building a new library and classrooms, a learning center, studios for the fine arts, counseling services, and a childcare center.

Similarly, just thirty years ago, who could have guessed at the powerful reshaping of communication, commerce, and education about to be caused by the internet?

And on September 10, 2001, who would have anticipated that our sense of security and perception of the world would be radically changed? The ensuing questions, “Why did they attack us?” “Who are they?” “What were they thinking?” and “What are we waiting for?” have plunged us into years of US wars in the Middle East.

The times and people change, but from our very beginnings, Keystone College has been dedicated to engaging the important questions of the times while our heart’s compass has remained: commitment to student success, civility in the pursuit of the common good, and integrity in all our dealings. Some of these vital questions are shared by many others across millennia in a Great Conversation, and they signal a direction to carry Keystone’s legacy of excellence forward. Examples include:

  • What does it mean to be a free human being living in community?
  • What does it mean to live a life of dignity, meaning, and purpose?
  • How do we understand and act as responsible stewards of the natural world?
  • How do we work peacefully to achieve a more just society?

There is an increasing cultural discussion that questions whether college is worth the price or the time spent and the only good colleges are those with the largest endowments and winning athletic teams. Of course, we all appreciate winning teams and large endowments, and although the cost of a college education is being vigorously debated, surely we do not think that we can simply shut down colleges and outsource the work of professionals and industrious citizens? We cannot productively exist as a nation or state without teachers, writers, engineers, scientists, doctors, medical professionals, attorneys, accountants, architects, clergy, engineers, and the military, no more than we can do without carpenters, electricians, masons, painters, mechanics, technicians, and plumbers.

Today’s entering class, you will likely hold 10-12 different jobs by the time you are 40. So how do we prepare you properly for such a future, for careers that do not yet exist? We know that there is a large difference between passing a driving test and becoming a beloved school bus driver for generations of children. We know that a house is not necessarily a home, where love, commitment, and secure affections thrive. A job is not the same as a career or profession where one develops, improves, masters, and passes on his or her wisdom, skills, and craft over a lifetime. And employment or an occupation is not the same as living a fulfilled life. What do we do when we go home, or are alone? How do we find peace in the midst of loss, misfortune, disappointment, or confusion? How do we act virtuously in the face of temptation? Where do we learn the choices and contexts of communities that give us freedom to make meanings out of love, birth, sickness, transition, faith, sacrifice, forgiveness, commitment, trust, death, and hope? These are just some of the questions that a liberal arts and sciences education can help students to engage.

College is an adventure, a rigorous hike, a laboratory, a rehearsal space, a study, a studio, a learning space, and a practice gym—a community of people committed to creative and critical problem-solving, and then they go forth acting, doing, and working. In the process, we often begin to answer the questions, “Who am I? Who are you? How can we make a difference?”

So, where are we today and how well are we positioned for the future? Some of the most exciting questions and changes are occurring at the heart of scholarship and the creation of knowledge in our lifetime.

For example, the gathering, transmitting, and storing of information and artifacts is what humans do. But add the internet and affordable access to the internet into the mix and more than two billion people are now connected online. The BBC estimates that a blog is created every second. The Library of Congress hosts millions of pages, YouTube has made the music of the world accessible to us all, and the Google Art Project connects the works of more than 7,000 artists with our personal machines. Where did we do our research before Ask, Bing, Yahoo, and Google, the latter which estimates more than 31 billion searches per month? And what, therefore, is a library in our time? What does it mean to be well-read when 3,000 – 4,000 new books or e-books are published every day? What is an educated person and how can we understand so much of the world and yet fail to understand ourselves?

This increasing dissemination of communication and information will not diminish. In fact, it is exponentially increasing every two to three years. The write me, call me, email me, text me, tweet me, tag me, friend me, Skype me, like me, selfie revolution in communication and learning is here to stay. And thanks to backup systems and the Cloud, all of these communications are never completely deleted which, by the way, should remind us all to take care of our e-reputations.

These technological developments offer incredible opportunities for students at Keystone College who have access to the same resources as the wealthiest colleges in the world. By sharing our mission and distinctiveness on the global stage of the internet and social media, we are able to ask, “What do you think of us?” and by our virtual engagement we have reimagined a disarming answer to a perennial question, “Who is my neighbor?”

And yet, by sharing our mission on the internet and social media, the opposite effect of muffling the depth and power of our unique voice and questions may also occur due to the limitations of the media employed. And this is not only Keystone’s conundrum. All colleges who place a high value on the personal attention, face-to-face, living-in-community version of education must be ready to engage these important shifts in perception and perceived value, and welcome the scrutiny by students and their parents as they question the value proposition of the residential, liberal arts and sciences college community of learning.

I am happy to discover that like many colleges of our size and focus, Keystone College has a remarkably positive tradition of active, engaged learning where our students do original research, scientific and artistic creations, and write senior theses or develop capstone projects, working closely with a faculty member one-on-one over a period of months. Additionally, living in a residence hall is not a luxury hotel experience, but rather, an opportunity to know oneself better in an exceptional experiment in neighborhood living with people around the same age, wrestling with similar important questions. 

In short, Keystone College is a community where learning is fostered and flourishes, and each student receives a chance to succeed. And the faculty and staff here, and at all of these august institutions represented today, are committed to transforming students to reach their highest potential. And learning flourishes where freedom, curiosity, and questions abound. When we get it right, our graduates go forth and positively contribute to the world and find success in their personal lives, and dream of and work towards the possibility of a deeper truth, a wider context, and a more peaceful coexistence, regardless of the obstacles, challenges, and doubts.

The Austrian poet and novelist, Rainer Maria Rilke, in a 1903 letter to a 19-year-old poet (Franz Kappus) wrote:

And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

So where are you? You have heard some of the 146-year history we stand on and what we stand for. You understand our challenge to educate new generations of students seeking to navigate the storm surges of ever-changing information and re-formation of academic fields and disciplines, while upholding our standards of rigor and excellence. Furthermore, we seek to accomplish this challenge so that each student can succeed and become a productive member of society. Yet, each person is unique with different experiences, talents, interests, and dreams giving one the ability to adapt and change, which is why we have evolved and survived in the first place. This individuality, celebrated in community, makes the quest for unity-in-diversity, truth-in-goodness, justice-in-mercy, and peace-in-dignity a moral and cultural imperative. Such formidable responsibilities lead me to ask: “Can one person really make a difference?” 

By standing before you today in service to and leadership of this college, you know my answer. But more important, what are you waiting for? Find out. Be the person who makes a difference. The ripple effect of your positive choices, over time, can impact thousands of people over generations.

Let your heart be your compass. Live the questions now and you will never be alone in pursuing your dreams.

Founded in 1868, Keystone College is a leading, comprehensive, student-centered college educating students in the liberal arts and sciences tradition. An independent, co-educational college, Keystone provides distinctive undergraduate programs grounded in a competitive learning environment that fosters integrity, curiosity, and civility. Enrolling nearly 1,700 students, Keystone offers more than 40 degree options in liberal arts and sciences based programs in business, communications, education, fine arts, natural science, environmental resource management, geology, and social sciences. Keystone College students receive a comprehensive education with active and engaged learning opportunities that stimulate interests, improve skills, and ensure career readiness.